Governments can’t make it rain, but they can listen to the people on the ground.
That was the message Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other Cabinet Ministers had for farmers as they surveyed dry conditions at Trangie on Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Parkes MP Mark Coulton all joined Mr Turnbull at the property of Ashlea and Phillip Miles, where they discussed strategies with local farmers.
“If we want to have the great food and fibre that we need, we’ve got to support our farmers and we’ve got to understand that they’re dealing with rainfall that appears to be much more volatile and the cost of maintaining stock during dry times is enormous,” Mr Turnbull said.
He said freight, securing fodder from interstate and building drought resistance were some areas government could help with, as well as making it easier for farmers to navigate the “pretty daunting piles of paperwork” often required to access assistance.
“Above all this is about listening and learning,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Littleproud – whose south-west Queensland electorate is also in the grip of the drought – stressed the government would not rush to introduce measures.
“You don’t want us to just make an arbitrary decision out of Canberra that would then impact where it has no relevance to people out here,” he said.
Instead, he promised a "calm and decisive" approach that took in local considerations.
Asked whether more funding would be made available he said: "We have to live within our means, but we have to help farmers build resilience."
With 61 per cent of NSW on drought watch, Mr Turnbull acknowledged the toll natural disasters take on farmers' mental health.
“We’re putting record funding into mental health and support services,” Mr Turnbull said.
“It’s very much a holistic issue but … if you’re in the livestock business it costs a lot to keep your stock alive, and if you sell them and destock and then it rains, of course prices go up and then it’s very hard to restock.
“It’s hard to get it right.”